At home football games this season, fans taking a stroll down Beamer Way will see a familiar sight: a long line of students in Hokie apparel stretching to Washington Street. These students, however, are not waiting to enter Lane Stadium (at least not yet). They’re looking forward to joining the newest tradition at Hokie Village, the Student Tailgate.

A joint effort between Student Affairs and Virginia Tech Athletics, the Student Tailgate offers a traditional game day experience in a safe and welcoming environment. While Hokie Village, the field of vendors and activities that pops up at each home game across from Lane Stadium, is open to the public, the Student Tailgate provides a more exclusive and intimate experience especially for Virginia Tech students.

Once inside, attendees will find many elements common to football tailgates. They have access to lawn games such as cornhole, kan jam, and spike ball; free treats such as snow cones or hot chocolate; and coupons for vendors offering game day foods. 

Maya Mahdi, a senior majoring in philosophy, politics, and economics, said the free treat was her favorite part of the tailgate before the Wofford game. “It was starting to get cooler, so it was nice to warm up with a delicious hot chocolate.”

For checking into the tailgate, students receive Virginia Tech-branded merchandise such as clear drawstring bags suitable for sports events and T-shirts. 

“There are so many perks you can access from the moment you swipe your Hokie Passport,” said Anahi Sanchez-Moya, a sophomore studying international relations. 

There’s even a chance to earn one of 100 wristbands that allow access to the North End Zone student section, normally available on a first-come, first-served basis when entering the game.

Students playing spike ball at the Student Tailgate, with live music in background
Students play spike ball in front of the live music stage at the Student Tailgate. Photo by James Bridgeforth for Virginia Tech.

“The Student Tailgate allows students to be a part of our game day experience that is really so unique,” said senior Miles Guth, the student project coordinator for the Student Tailgate. He touts the tailgate as not only a new fun option to pass time before the game, but also a way to acclimate to Virginia Tech and find new ways to socialize with fellow Hokies.  

“We’re providing first-year and other newer students space to experience the same thing everyone else does,” he said. “You see two students who show up alone. Then they start talking and walking around with each other. And then we see them going into the game together.”

James Bridgeforth, assistant vice president for student affairs and ExperienceVT, is part of the team responsible for planning and overseeing the tailgate. Among his priorities: getting student organizations involved to help students socialize and adjust to Virginia Tech.

“You’ll find that a big part of the tailgate experience is really social networking. It’s hard to make friends, and it can feel like the university is so big and intimidating,” he said. Groups such as the Latino Association of Student Organizations, a recent sponsor, greet students when they enter the tailgate. In addition, their presence alone demonstrates to the attendees that there are groups that represent students like them at Virginia Tech that they can join and interact with.

Bridgeforth also sees the tailgates as an opportunity to destigmatize seeking support services such as mental wellness. “We have a number of embedded counselors in the residence halls, and they volunteer to come and connect with students in a different way. And it helps the students feel more comfortable when they need to come to us for help.”

Why choose the Student Tailgate over other game day activities around Blacksburg? Guth said there are plenty of reasons, the first being convenience. 

“The location is huge. We’re directly across from the west entrance to Lane Stadium, so it couldn’t be simpler.” 

In addition to the many giveaways, free food, and drinks at the tailgate, Mahdi cites the nearby live music as a benefit. “I love the music at the tailgate. It creates such a loud and fun atmosphere.”

When faced with the sheer volume of activities available on game days, deciding where to spend time before kickoff can be overwhelming. The Student Tailgate aims to solve this by offering a special pre-game experience in a low-pressure, dedicated space. 

“In life, you get to decide what is a party,” said Sanchez-Moya. “And thankfully, this is a space by students and for students.”

The Student Tailgate, located at the rear of Hokie Village, opens 3 1/2 hours before each home game and ends 45 minutes prior to kickoff. Students need to present a Hokie Passport for admission and to receive the week’s freebies.

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